Interim Associate Vice-President, Academic Affairs
Professor, Department of Government
Administration Building, Third Floor
Hall of Letters, Room 322
Ed Wingenbach joined the Government Department in 2000. He received his undergraduate degree from Lake Forest College and Doctorate from the University of Notre Dame, where he specialized in continental political philosophy and democratic theory. His research interests include contemporary political theory, democratic theory, Heidegger, and the scholarship of teaching and learning. He has published articles and chapters on a range of topics in some of the top journals in his fields, including the American Journal of Political Science, the Journal of Politics, and International Philosophical Quarterly. His book, Institutionalizing Agonistic Democracy, will appear in 2011 in the Ashgate series Rethinking Political and International Theory. Professor Wingenbach’s courses range the gamut of political theory, from classical philosophy to postmodernism, the traditional canon to feminist theory. He has received repeated recognition for excellence in his teaching, including awards at Notre Dame and the University of South Carolina, and a nomination for Professor of the Year at the University of Redlands. In 2006 he received the University of Redlands Award for Outstanding Service.
This course is an intensive study of selected contemporary political dilemmas from theoretical and ethical perspectives. You will learn to analyze political controversies, become familiar with the theoretical assumptions behind the problem, and develop and vigorously defend coherent positions. You will develop your persuasive writing and debating skills, the research skills needed to write and argue well, and develop your abilities to participate in the civic life of a political community.
Why study the political philosophy of the ancients? After all, they lived in societies very different from ours, experienced the world in an entirely different manner, began their study with assumptions we might find strange, used stylistic approaches no longer considered properly academic, and could not possibly have discussed our most pressing current political problems. Two reasons, at least, can be given to justify the study of ancient political theory. The first is that the very strangeness of thinkers like Socrates (pictured), Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and Sophocles can help us to better understand ourselves, our world, and our values. If we can come to understand how it might be possible to see the world from an almost alien perspective, we might then be able to gain some purchase on and distance from our own beliefs. The ability to achieve such critical distance is a primary goal of college education. The second is, paradoxically, the centrality of these thinkers to the western tradition, of which we are all a part. Though they seem odd now, these texts provide the foundation upon which our current political, philosophical, and intellectual views rest. The Greeks invented democracy, the Romans perfected the republic, Plato is considered the founder of western philosophy as an enterprise of criticism and relentless questioning, Aristotle was the first political scientist, Augustine the first to try to reconcile natural law with Christian revelation, and so on. It is impossible to imagine our lives, political structures, and thought as we experience them today without these thinkers' contributions. So, we study the ancients because both their strangeness and familiarity can help us develop perspective on ourselves and our society. Click here for a student's interesting take on Antigone.
At its best, political theory is challenging, controversial, and unsettling. Good political theory questions our conventional beliefs and normative expectations, asks us why we believe what we do and whether it can be justified, forces us to examine our role and responsibility within our own polity, and tries to point the way to a better society. It addresses many of our most hotly debated cultural issues: what is good? what is evil? what is justice? what is freedom? what is the role of the state? what form of government should we have? does truth exist? and, most importantly, why do you think so? In other words, political theory forces us to think carefully and critically about our own political ideas and those of others. This class will attempt to carry on this tradition of political theory by exposing you to a variety of ideas, theories, and philosophies in a context of classroom dialogue and personal reflections.
The ideas we will study are those of the modern period in western culture, from the beginning of the Enlightenment to the end of the 19th Century. During this period almost all of the major concepts and theories that shape contemporary politics were developed and debated. It was during the modern period that our ideas about democracy, power, liberty, markets, rights, rationality, and self-critique were formed. By understanding this process, we can better understand and participate in the politics of the world in which we now live. Pictures: Hobbes on the left, Marx on the right. If you've taken this course, you know why that's funny.
What does it mean to do theory that is both feminist and political? The title “feminist political theory” includes two modifiers of the term theory, either of which might take precedence. If “political” were the key term, we might expect a course that looked at canonical political theory in order to determine where and how (or even if) feminist thought fit into this tradition. This course, conversely, takes “feminist” to be the key term. As a result, we focus on feminist theories which address political questions as well as the process of theorizing itself. By feminist thought I mean philosophical/theoretical approaches placing gender at the center of their analysis and then using these insights to investigate and explain political issues. Because questions of gender are deeply intertwined with issues of identity, power, knowledge, law, and democracy, a theoretical investigation of feminist theory is inevitably political. Picture: Simone de Beauvior.
GOVT 318: American Political Thought & Practice [Syllabus]
A course in American political thought might pursue one of two paths: (1) a survey of distinctly American forms of political philosophy, tracing their development historically and normatively, or (2) a survey of theoretical approaches necessary to understand and analyze American politics. More succinctly, either theory or practice. This course engages each alternative, demonstrating that an understanding of the philosophical foundations of American politics is essential to developing a coherent analysis of American practice. Moreover, given its pragmatist bent, American political philosophy and American theoretical analysis are often intertwined. So we will read both primary political texts, philosophical/normative approaches, and theoretical interpretations of American politics.
The theme of “Constitutional interpretation” links the readings selected for this course. We begin with the founding period, particularly debates about the Constitution, both within the convention and surrounding its ratification. Our investigation of these debates forms the core of the first half of the course. In the second part, we examine how evolving political practices relate to and transform the dominant interpretations of the Constitution. In the final section of the course we examine the major ideological positions in contemporary American political practice: liberalism and conservatism, and explore how these ideologies lead to varying interpretations of the Constitutional text. Pictures: James Madison and Malcolm X.
This course investigates major ideas and approaches to political theory developed since 1900. Texts and themes vary for every class, depending upon student interest. In the semester prior to the one in which the course is scheduled, I generally plan the course themes and begin selecting readings in consultation with students intending to take the course. In past years themes have included reason and modernity, the social construction of identity, revolutionary theory and political resistence, contemporary Marxism, globalization and empire, political ethics, liberalism, communitarianism, libertarianism, anarchism, postmodernism, authoritarianism, feminism, gender, race, and identity. Picture: Hannah Arendt.
Most Americans and, increasingly, most people around the world, would agree that democracy is the only legitimate and feasible form of government. But what exactly does “democracy” mean? Though the etymology of the word is clear (demos means people and cracy means power; hence democracy means power to or in the hands of the people), the institutional and theoretical implications of the concept are difficult to articulate. The purpose of this class is to examine the historical development of and contemporary debates about the meaning of democracy. By the end of the course you should have a better understanding of the ideas, possibilities, and limitations of democratic governance, and be able to articulate and defend a precise conceptual and institutional understanding of democracy.
This course changes from year to year depending on my research interests and student input. In the spring semester of 2008 I will teach Democratic Theory as an advanced seminar. Past topics include "Human Rights and Cultural Relativism," "Heidegger and Postmodernism," an Oxford style tutorial pairing students with similar interests and meeting with each set bi-weekly to discuss essays, and Contemporary Political Theory. Picture: Heidegger, enframing the description.
I regularly facilitate seminars for the Johnston Center. Past seminars have included Heidegger, American Conservatism, and a two First year Seminars. Other topics that have come up in conversation with students include (but are not limited to):
- Human Rights: Theory, practice, activism; could be a variety of topics, including torture, trafficking, religion and, etc.
- The Greeks: An exploration of the literature, philosophy, science, art, politics, and anything else that comes up related to Ancient Greece from the pre-Homeric Hymns to Alexander the Great.
- Freedom: What is it, how should it be defined, can it be practiced, is it anything more than a dumb idea...
- Marxism after Marx: A look at Marxism as a philosophic and political approach as it evolved in the Twentieth Century. We would read some Marx, major figures in the development of Marxism, and then pursue our interests as we see fit.
- Aesthetics and Ethics: This would have to be developed along with another appropriate faculty member. We would look at aesthetic theory and philosophy of art as understood by both artists and critics, with a view toward the larger social implications of art for society and politics.
During Presidential election years I teach a first year seminar called "How to Predict an Election." Do you think you know who will win the election for President? Can you explain why? Would you stake part of your grade on this prediction? This seminar will follow the campaign for President closely in order to understand, predict, and explain the final result. In the first part of the course, we will focus on the campaign and the factors that influence electoral outcomes. You will also research and analyze the likely result in a single swing state. In November, you will predict the outcome of the 2008 federal election and write a paper defending those predictions. In the second part of the course we will use the results of the elections as the starting point to analyze and evaluate American political institutions from a variety of theoretical, normative, and social scientific perspectives.
I am willing to sponsor independent studies in areas where I have some competence and/or interest. A student wishing to engage in independent study should meet with me to discuss their idea, after they have completed some serious research into the topic. I have sponsored at least 20 independent studies since 2000; past independent studies have included: Anarchism, Political Humor, Science-Technology-Society, Minority Representation, Revolutions (in theory and practice), Space and Politics, History and Cultural Evolution, and honors research.
Photos of philosophers copied from: http://www.trincoll.edu/depts/phil/philo/philosophers.html, except Hannah Arendt, Malcolm X, and James Madison.
last update 9/13/2010